Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram and Twitter: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Ducklings First

 
Male Wood Ducks are one of the most beautiful birds in the world. In January, the female in this photo had the opportunity to select the suitor of her choice. 

Between January and May, priorities change for female Wood Ducks. Initially, selecting a handsome mate may be at the top of her list, but along the way egg-laying, incubating and ultimately the safety of her young becomes the top priority. On Monday, this female had clearly moved on.

Nearby carp were thrashing about and spawning in the shallow waters of Duck Bay. The noisy fish certainly looked big enough to swallow a duckling whole.

The beauty of a male Wood Duck, hanging out on a nearby log, was no longer relevant.

There was no sign of affection when the female charged the handsome male and chased him off the log.

She must have decided that the elevated perch would provide a safe haven for her young. Soon the ducklings began joining their mother. One, two, three...

 ...four, five six...

...ultimately, all seven left the water. While the early birds preened, the stragglers slowly ascended the log.

The last duckling struggled a bit trying to find an elevated opening between its siblings.

Finally, with all seven on top of the log, I suspect the hen counted them just to be sure.

However, young creatures are seldom patient and still.

Soon the ducklings were slipping and sliding back into the water.

Close by, the carp continued to splash. The threat had not gone away. Plus, the fish were not the only problem. American Crows, River Otters, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and many others could easily make off with a duckling. 

(There are also environmental threats. For example, later in the week, I came across another female Wood Duck calling loudly from under a willow along the water's edge. For twenty minutes, she called incessantly while circling back and forth between logs, mostly hidden under the foliage. Finally, just as she and her twelve ducklings emerged into view, she quieted down. A bystander surmised that one of her ducklings must have been temporarily caught among the logs and unable to get free. The mother kept up the distress calls until all of her young could proceed together.)

On Monday, all but one of the fallen ducklings made it back to safety and then...

...finally, the last duckling circled to the far end of the log and climbed up out of the water.

In the end, when the mother felt it was safe she led her young ones away from the shallow, carp-infested waters of Duck Bay. 

**********

This week's post is dedicated to the half a dozen volunteers who have been rising early to watch Wood Duck boxes. Since early March, our all-inspiring hope has been to watch young ducklings as they leave the nest for the first, and only, time. Amazingly, when the ducklings are only one day old they are ready and able to climb out of their nesting cavity and fall to the surface below, regardless of the height.

The ducklings will only exit the nest if their mother calls to them. The mother hens are very secretive and careful about instigating the process. The hens only call when they feel it is safe for their young to leave the nest. This year, our team's best attempts at deducing the timing of 'wood duckling departure' did not quite succeed. However, I hope we all agree that any time spent outdoors observing nature is a positive, self-reinforcing experience which is certainly worth the investment.

Hopefully, next year our luck will improve!

By the way, it is interesting to note that our first sighting of a Wood Duck duckling last year was on May 14th. This year it was on May 13th. Nature's timing is certainly amazing!

**********

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!

Larry

Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.






Is this a native or non-native butterfly?










Scroll down for the answer.














***************











An American Painted Lady: It is native. Apparently, related Painted Lady butterflies exist in many places around the world.











***************




The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!




My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net








Saturday, May 18, 2019

A Curious Corvid

The intelligence of an American Crow allows it to find food in an amazing variety of ways. One of the most surprising for me happens in late Spring after the Sticklebacks have returned to Union Bay to spawn and die. Crows can be seen gliding down to the surface of the water and picking up the floating bodies of the small fish.

This week provided another American Crow surprise. While walking along the gravel road, north of the Montlake Cut, I glanced up just in time to avoid flushing a crow. The black bird was intensely focused on something in the middle of the road. 

Looking more closely I noticed a small snake. The snake's little red tongue was frantically tasting the air. Its body was coiled and tense. The undersized serpent studiously stared at the crow, obviously aware of every move. Given the size difference, I expected the crow would grab the snake by the tail, snap it like a whip and fly off with a fresh lunch.

In a surprisingly slow manner, the crow simply crept closer. Clearly, its curiosity was tempered by something - uncertainty, fear or possibly well-informed respect for the tiny snake.  

Later, a family friend explained that garter snakes have tiny needle-like teeth which can pierce the skin. Also, multiple websites state that garter snakes are now known to have a mild venom, which was a surprise to me. Apparently, their venom is fairly harmless to humans. Even so, 'snaketype.com' recommends having a doctor take look if you are ever bitten by a garter snake. I was also surprised to learn that garter snakes can eject a foul-smelling musk, which is used to discourage potential predators.

In retrospect, I wonder if the little brown spot on the righthand side of the bird's bill might have been a bit of the snake's musk.

The crow was clearly curious and quite tense. I wonder if snakes and crows experience adrenaline, like humans. The focus and intensity sure looked familiar. I suspect it felt similar to when I met a mother bear and her cub, while alone in the woods.

A moment later, the snake struck. The crow leaped back. For the first time, I realized one of the benefits of having legs which bend backward. The reverse bend, as compared to humans, appears to make it easier to leap away from danger, without turning to run. This enabled the crow to avoid the strike while also staying perfectly focused on the threat.

When the crow circled counter-clockwise, the snake took another shot.

Almost immediately, the snake was coiled up and ready to defend itself, again.

The crow moved a few feet away and even turned its back on the snake. Maybe, the crow was hoping the snake would disappear while it was not looking. I certainly expected it to quickly slither away.

Instead, the snake simply watched and waited

Soon, curiosity got the best of the crow and it circled around for another look.

Once again, the snake struck and the crow leaped back.

The snake recoiled and flicked the air with its little red tongue as if to say, 'I'm ready, take your best shot, big guy.' 

Hesitantly, the crow crept closer.

This time, as the crow circled to the south it apparently opened up an escape route. The snake began wiggling away to the north.

With the crow in close pursuit, I thought for sure the snake's tail would be irresistible.  Of course, this is the same end of the snake which may have sprayed the crow with musk.


I was surprised by how easily the snake attempted to navigate the nearly vertical surface when it reached the curb without being detained.

A moment later, the snake lost its traction. It fell back - landing directly in front of the crow. The crow was now perfectly positioned to strike. The little snake was almost literally between a rock and a hard place. 

Surprisingly, the crow lifted its wings and stepped back, apparently, fearing the snake would attack it. Later, someone suggested that crows may have an innate fear of snakes, just like humans. At the very least, this crow had a healthy respect. 

The snake seized the moment and leaped vertically again. The crow edged closer.

But, this time, the snake made it all the way up and over the curb. As the crow watched, the snake silently slithered away. Belatedly, the crow made a half-hearted attempt to search through the foliage, but the snake was safely hidden somewhere beneath the bushes and the brush.

Afterward, the crow wiped its beak on the curb and attempted to clean its face with its foot. This seemed to reinforce the idea that the snake may have sprayed the crow with its foul-smelling musk.

Update: There is some debate about how the musk exits the snake's body, e.g. spray vs exude or excrete. I cannot say positively, since I have not see it happen.

Thank You to Eric, Gary and Richard. Each of whom wrote in to confirm that garter snakes do not spray their musk. Apparently, they excrete it. Richard even provided a link to a scientific study of garter snake musk. You can read his perspective and see the link in the Comments section below.

Finally, just before flying away, the crow turned and glanced in my direction. The closing of its inner eyelids gave it a bit of an evil look.

I am left to wonder about the crow's hesitation. Was the smell of the musk what made the crow unwilling to attack? Are garter snakes actually dangerous to crows? If so, Do the crows understand the potential danger? or Do crows simply fear and respect all snakes? One thing is for certain, this crow was intelligent enough to be both curious and careful. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!

Larry

Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.






Is this a native or non-native plant?










Scroll down for the answer.














***************










Orange Trumpet Honeysuckle: Surprisingly, this is both a native plant and a garden favorite.










***************




The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!




My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Mother's Love

On Mother's Day, focusing on this female Mallard and her ducklings seems rather sweet and appropriate. Even from a distance, the mother hen is clearly watching for danger, while also keeping all of her ducklings in sight. 

Multiple times this week this family has been seen on Duck Bay. I admit I am assuming they are the same family unit, primarily, because the number of ducklings has consistently been seven.

Earlier in the week, the ducklings looked visibly smaller. It is possible that I just happened to stumble across two different families, never at the same time, with the same number of ducklings. It is also feasible that the size difference in the ducklings just happened to give the impression of growth over time.

On the other hand, I like to think that this is an exceptional Mallard Hen. She not only laid, incubated and hatched her ducklings prior to most other females, but she has also apparently successfully protected her seven ducklings in a bay full dangers. 

Earlier in the week, Duck Bay was in a consistently frothy state with large carp spawning everywhere. Stealthy, Great Blue Herons stalked the shallow waters along the shore. Frequently, a Bald Eagle would sit overhead in a dead cottonwood and search the water for food - most likely Albert from the Broadmoor Eagle's nest. One afternoon, two second-year Cooper's Hawks lazily circled overhead while drifting towards the southwest. All of these creatures were focused on finding food and young ducklings would have easily fit the bill. 

So far, these seven ducklings seem to be leading charmed lives. Like many of us, I suspect their good luck originates from paying attention to their mother. Regardless of your species, listening to your mother is the first key to survival.

At the other end of the spectrum is Marsha. She is quite possibly the most protective mother around Union Bay. Marsha is the Bald Eagle sitting on the left. Her mate, Monty, is the smaller eagle to the right. Immediately next to Marsha is the latest addition to the family. Of course in this photo, taken from the far side of Montlake Cut, the small eaglet is nearly impossible to see.

Even with an enlarged photo the fuzzy, little head, peering between the 'V' of upright sticks, is at the limits of perception. 

Here is one more distant shot with the young eaglet's head facing to our right. So far this year, I have only seen the single young eaglet in Monty and Marsha's nest. 

Last year, Monty and Marsha had two young. The challenges they faced - nest falling, injured eaglet, etc - have been covered extensively in prior posts. Click Here for more details.

The real reason I included this photo is to show Marsha's ferocious attitude. Here, she was focused on a crow who threatened to interrupt the feeding of her young. Her maternal instinct is not just about being sweet and kind, she is also strong, fierce and protective. 

Marsha is the only eagle I have ever seen carry a fish without using her talons. Bald Eagles normally carry extra weight under their tails. True, it was a relatively small fish. Still, I think the casual way she carries it helps to demonstrate her size and strength. 

In fact, female Bald Eagles are consistently larger and, in my experience, more ferocious than the males. Marsha is obviously the bird on the left while Monty is the sweeter-looking eagle on the right. I have no doubt, the emblem of our nation is modeled after a female Bald Eagle.

When an immature (most likely unrelated) Bald Eagle sat overhead watching Marsha eat, she was not intimidated. Still, she did not want to take a chance of loosing her food, so she called incessantly for Monty to come and chase the young eagle away. After he did, she quietly resumed her meal.

This winter photo, of Marsha, preparing to consume an American Coot, communicates her fierceness far more than words can say.

At the same time, while in the nest and focused on her young, Marsha can be a gentle as a feather falling in a summer breeze.

Even after one grows up, having your mother watching out for you, is a feeling to be treasured. Happy Mother's Day to one and all!

This week's post is dedicated to the mothers who love us, and most especially to mine!

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!

Larry


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.








Is this a native or non-native caterpillar?










Scroll down for the answer.














***************







Sorry, this is another case where I do not know the answer. I am wondering if anyone is aware of a good book for identifying caterpillars. This particular individual was hanging from a Red Alder branch and climbing furiously to get back to the leaves and away from the water below.








***************




The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!



My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net